Who’s Going Down? A Criminal Law Analysis of Desperate Housewives Episode: Children Will Listen
Editor's Note: In her "Who's Going Down" series of posts, Robson Hall Law Student A. Sandhu looks at episodes of popular television shows and analyzes them through a criminal law lens for an insightful, comical and fun application of criminal law to popular culture.
Who’s Going Down? – Desperate Housewives Episode: Children Will Listen
The use of spanking as a form of discipline is a hotly debated topic in Canada. Some believe it can be an effective form of discipline, while others insist that it does more harm than good. The Supreme Court of Canada weighed in on this issue in the case of Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada,1 in which the Supreme Court outlined a strict set of circumstances under which corporal punishment is legally permissible in Canada. One of the issues addressed by the Supreme Court was whether it is ever legally acceptable to spank someone else’s child as a form of corporal punishment.
This very issue was touched on in the ABC Original Drama, Desperate Housewives. When Lynette Scavo’s babysitter cancels on her last minute, her friend Bree Van de Kamp kindly agrees to babysit Lynette’s four unruly children. Like any good babysitter, Bree makes a fresh batch of homemade cookies for the children. Porter was eager to get his hands on the cookies, like any typical six year old would be. Bree tells Porter that he would have to wait until the cookies cooled to have one, and she warns him that if he tries to touch the cookies again, he will be spanked. Sure enough, Porter once again tries to sneak a cookie and the entire tray falls to the floor. Bree follows through with her warning and spanks Porter four times.
Lynette eventually becomes aware of the incident and she is horrified to learn that her son was spanked. By the end of the episode Lynette forgives Bree, but real life isn’t quite so simple and in reality, an incident like this wouldn’t likely be neatly resolved in a tight 42 minutes. Had this incident occurred in a Canadian jurisdiction and Lynette had pressed charges, is it possible that well-meaning Bree could be convicted of assault?
The administration of corporal punishment on children is addressed by section 43 of the Criminal Code, which states that “Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances”.2
1 Canada Foundation for Children, Youth & the Law v Canada  1 SCR 76,  WDFL 85.
2 Criminal Code, RSC 1985, C-46, s 43.